Humble Justice

By James Cornwell

Reading from the Gospel of Matthew, 5:1-12

1 When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:

3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

5 “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11 “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”


Today’s gospel contains the Beatitudes — descriptions of states of being that are elevated unto blessedness. Few of Jesus’ teachings lie closer to the moral center of Christian life and thought. Perhaps what is most challenging about them is not that they are each to be pursued, but that they are all to be pursued at the same time.

It is likely the fourth beatitude — hunger and thirst for righteousness — which is hardest to keep in harmony with the others. Meekness? Mercy? Poverty of spirit? Our social landscape is already crippled with a virus, lockdowns, civil unrest, and racial injustice, and now, in the U.S., a looming national election, which could prove to be one of the nastiest in our history. Many of us zealously hunger and thirst for righteousness over the issues that motivate us — race, abortion, immigration, income inequality. But how can we pursue that hunger and thirst in humility, meekness, and mercy?

How many of us, when we consider the important issues of the day, will acknowledge our spiritual poverty?

Could we ever put a political opponent ahead of ourselves?

Can we work meekly to improve the lot of those around us, regardless of whether that work appears to others as “right” or “left”?

What does it mean to show mercy to those who work for what we see as an unrighteous cause?

The Beatitudes are typically seen as an expression of personal spiritual aspiration and perfection, but, if well-practiced, may also heal a country. All the Beatitudes strengthen each other. Commit today to meekness, mercy, and humility, not in spite of your hunger and thirst for righteousness, but because of them.

James Cornwell lives and teaches in the Hudson Valley with his wife Sarah and their five children.

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